Although the average company is more tolerant today than ever before, hidden prejudices still run rampant among workers from entry-level employees to executives.

In the workplace, the way you look can be more important than the merit of your work to some supervisors, while coworkers can treat you differently if you don't fit into their idea of professional appearances. 

Appearance-based discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently based on how they look, creating an imbalance between someone being evaluated for their performance versus purely based on the way they present themselves.

Often times, this phenomenon will manifest itself through a superior who treats a worker differently because they are physically attracted to them. Or perhaps it can involve a more tomboy-esque female worker being passed over for a promotion because they don't embody traditional female appearances. 

These issues represent a slew of different types of discrimination in the workplace that center around someone's body and how they present themselves. 

Women and young workers more likely to face appearance discrimination

When it comes to appearance-based discrimination, gender discrimination can be the real motive. A 2017 study conducted by the Saint Louis University School of Law found that workers and job candidates are oftentimes perceived and rated by how closely their features fall under the typical "masculine" and "feminine" physicality, also known as the 'Lack of Fit" model. This creates an imbalance in how "successful" someone appears versus the merit of someone's current or potential work performance.

New research may indicate that young women experience this type of workplace discrimination most often. A new study conducted by social selling skincare company, Univia, discovered key insights about appearance-based discrimination, including an indication that women and younger generations were more likely to become a victim of appearance-based discrimination. Nearly one-third of women surveyed admitted to experiencing questionable treatment at work related to how they look.

In fact, they found that women were more likely than men to agree with statements related to improving one's appearance for the workplace: 32% of survey participants pointed out a difference in the beauty standards that men and women are held to. 

Perception of appearance and potential career success

Looks have an impact on our professional lives: 86% of the employees surveyed by Univia believed physical appearance matters in the workplace. Overwhelmingly, respondents noted that appearance is an essential component of career success. Some of the top held beliefs included:

  • Appearance influences client perception and company image (90%)
  • Appearance affects employee confidence (85%)
  • Appearance affects employee competency (73%)

Kevin Hafen, CEO of Univia, speaks to this issue: "Attractiveness bias can greatly impact career success, from the hiring process down to raises and future promotions, This type of unfair advantage can hold many employees back from reaching their full potential and successfully utilizing their skill set. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 of our respondents has experienced appearance-based discrimination. This goes to show how common it's becoming and knowing how to proceed is crucial."

He goes on to optimistically hope for a better future regarding appearance-based discrimination. "Eliminating beauty bias in its' entirety," he says, "is a difficult task, but admitting its' existence and learning to address the issues head-on can improve workplace culture and personal growth."